This is my 25th anniversary tribute to albums that released during the year of 1996 (and/or presumed to have released during this particular year). It was a monumental year in underground, indie music and one that was ignited by artists sharing a similar Christian Faith. While the rest of the world was consuming their Michael W Smith, or Newsboys, Audio Adrenaline, DC Talk, Amy Grant, Rebecca St. James, Jars of Clay, or even that guy who wrote the Butterfly Kisses song, we on the indie circuit side of things were rejoicing with a newfound optimism. Our passions ran deep and our association with Christianity was nearly unshakeable. This year, that decade, was a firestarter, a year of immense joy and unforeseen challenges. Without diving too deep into the undercurrent of what was and what may have been, let’s just take a look back on some of my favorites. These are some of the songs blasted from the comfort of the old Teal green Camaro in 1996 (or that Blue Chevy truck). *This post is appearing well past the 25th anniversary deadline so I apologize for its lateness. Life and illness, what can I say. Here is a link to the Spotify Playlist I made in honor of this 25th anniversary post.
25. Every Day Life – Disgruntled
This is a weird record, good but definitely weird. Poor Every Day Life (or EDL for short) developed a sort of abrasive and controversial reputation. They were disrupters but also daring musicians who pushed the envelope and dived into touchy subject matter that may have rubbed people the wrong way. Even that infamous cover of the Reginald Denny beating during the 1992 LA Riots was sure to get their album pulled lovingly by aging Christian gate keepers at your favorite local Christian Bookstore (remember those?). “Disgruntled” was a heavy album that rode the line between Thrash, Rap, Rock, Metal, and even Funk. It was loud and in your face with rapping so fast, you’d swear the vocalist was on speed (sorry). Tedd was a monster vocalist. One who could rap fast with dialogue and content in line with the hardcore fury and delivery of the musicians at hand, backing him up. He was tall in stature and could scream with the best hardcore and metal bands of that time period without skipping a beat. Some of my favorite songs off this record are “Bystander”, “E Colli”, “Cry of the Lame”, “Look”, and slowing it down with “Residence”. Sure, “Whitey on the Moon” may have been controversial to some (it was a ‘cover song’ after all) but I guess it added to the already mystifying, and over the top bombast of this clearly head scratching debut record. It was good, the band was good, and definitely a classic for that time period and place. We will just leave the rumors about a RATM and EDL beef for another time 😉
24. Focal Point – Suffering of the Masses
How can I approach an accurate write up on a band that mostly slipped under everyone’s radars, even in 1996. By the time this record had released bands like Focused, Unashamed, and Bloodshed had broken up. ZAO hadn’t reached massive acclaim just yet, xDisciplex AD was just “Disciple”, and Facedown Records hadn’t emerged on the scene. It was an between stage, underground hardcore had begun to blend with metal to reach this sort of new genre status that was taking stages and blowing up, called “metalcore“. Focal Point landed somewhere between underground youthful hardcore and the mainstream appeal of a heavy, metallic band. “Suffering Of The Masses” was the heaviest album by a band of Straight Edge (and Christian) members this side of the Faith centric world. Bands like Earth Crisis, Strife, Snapcase, Vision of Disorder, Unbroken, Mean Season, Integrity, etc. were all beginning to hit the music scene hard and were embraced by young kids who were thirsting for something heavy and that reached them where they were at on the underground stage. Focal Point took all that youthful enthusiasm, straight edge world view, Christianity influence, and heavy music then put it in a blender with some of the best production at that time, then pushed play and unleashed a whirlwind of sound. They only lasted for a demo, a 7″, and this full length record before calling it quits. Members went off and dabbled in other projects with Ryan Clark moving on to become a graphic design maestro/expert alongside his brother, founding the band Training for Utopia with his brother – Don, and eventually ending up fronting one of the biggest and most influential metal bands of today – Demon Hunter. It really all started with this record and this band could have been huge, really huge, maybe even releasing 2 more records before breaking up in the early 00’s when NuMetal took hold, at least that’s how I imagine it would have gone. Oh, and you can’t mention this record without mentioning the intense display of real suffering in the form of drawn art for the front cover and inner liners. Some of the best.
23. Ninety Pound Wuss – Self Titled
This was a awkward little record for punk and Christianity as a whole. The market wasn’t ready for it, people didn’t know how to consume it, and the rest just stood back with utter confusion at just what they were listening to. I was somewhere in the middle of all that. I’m 18 years old at that point and grew up with grunge and alternative before I found the underground, diy, independent scene. There were a few metal bands I enjoyed, a lot of mainstream (epitaph) punk, but that old school, mohawk fronting, thrashy, crust punk stuff was unknown in my realm of music listening without a doubt. I am not even going to pretend I understood it or absorbed that material by other bands. I knew it but didn’t really KNOW it if you know what I mean? (wait, what?). I believe the name really drew me in, seriously! It was so goofy but instantly recognizable. Ninety Pound Wuss made you question “what is in a name?” and “how does a name define you?”. That deeper questioning really transcends the music contained within and connects with the subject matter of the band and what they were trying to convey to the crowd(s). They were afraid of that physical beating by a world-weary bully that had no meaning behind their actions other than misdirected anger and rage. Before you beat the ninety pound wuss, you must understand the ninety pound wuss and embrace their differences. That probably makes absolutely no sense but what does make sense is the fast, raw, and somewhat melodic nature of the songs within. I can guarantee you that practically very little Christian Bookstores understood the band and even some crowd goers were left scratching their heads at what they were listening to. Circle pits, head bangers, stage divers, and slam dancers, were stoked! “Something Must Break” has played in my head for years and it’s such a fun and chaotic song must like the rest of this record. While I didn’t quite appreciate the follow ups to this record, I could appreciate Jeff’s approach to songwriting and his vocals. The bands he went on to play in were great and he is still involved with music to this day. Ninety Pound Wuss – Thank you for shaking things up, offering creative and fun artwork, and thank you for being the crazy punks you were. I have the vinyl now as a collector’s item and to remind me of the diverse nature that the 90’s were and still are to me.
22. Black Eyed Sceva – 5 Years, 50,000 Miles Davis
This was the last release by Black Eyed Sceva before they changed their name and morphed into “Model Engine”, releasing their fabulous 1997 follow up – “The Lean Years Tradition”. For reasons unknown, the band abruptly changed their name, rounded out their sound and went in a more mainstream direction, something I certainly didn’t take issue with. I always wondered what would have been had they just kept the same name throughout their existence. Maybe it wouldn’t have caused so much confusion and further catapulting them down into obscurity? Anyway, this isn’t about that name change nor their 1997 full length adios, this is rather about that 1996 “EP” with some new, some old, some live, and a great cover. This should have been in #25 position because it wasn’t technically a “new” full length record. This was an EP of sorts. The new song, “Ryan’s Driveway” was great so was “Ecumenical”, and “Twain”. The live versions of songs off their 1995 debut were really well done, and of course that Sting “cover” of “Invisible Sun” was really cool. Overall, a definitely collectors item in anyone’s collection and a fond rememberance of a band that once was (and could have been). Jeremy Post, if you’re reading this, you know what to do and you know how to do it! Don’t reunite for a couple fans, reintroduce yourselves with new music as Black Eyed Sceva and show the world how talented and poetically poignant you guys truly are!
21. Dogwood – Good Ol Daze
Good Ol Daze is my least favorite Dogwood album. It is Dogwood though and I am forever a fan of anything they do. This was a basic, simple sound for the album. They would further explore their punk rock roots and deep lyrical themes on future records like “Through Thick and Thin”, “More Than Conquerors”, “Building a Better Me”, “Matt Aragon”, “Seismic”, and even the “Self Titled” record. Every band gets their start somewhere and for the band in question, that was this record. Some weighty subject matter here much like their entire catalog, with topics ranging from Abuse, Loss, Patriotism, Fear, Sin, Lust, and ultimately hope. Josh K. and friends found a most eloquent way of wrapping his feelings, thoughts, and Faith around punk rock power chords and pounding beats with this and all future Dogwood albums.
20. Bloodshed – Soft Spoken Words of Fallbrook EP
Why? Because it’s Bloodshed, that’s why. Yes, this was only a 3 song EP but it was a fitting closure to a band’s short reign at the top of everyone’s favorites list. To have a band release 2 EPs before they even graduated high school and develop a rabid following of fans thirsting for more just goes to show you how word of mouth and unique music can change mindsets. Bloodshed wasn’t copying anyone else. They may have been influenced by different bands at that time period, but they carved out their own little niche. These 3 final songs with Jason Fleetwood on lead vocals were strong and the band’s follow up as “Slingshot David” was on an even grander scale. These first 2 eps are a fitting reminder of a band that disappeared much too soon and could have gone on to be one of the strongest hardcore/emo/punk outfits in popular music today. Thankfully we all have Stairwell and can enjoy Jonathan Caro’s ongoing musical gifts with future albums. I encourage you to look Bloodshed up and find those first 2 eps. I have 1 on CD and 1 on Vinyl thankfully.
19. Bleach – Space
This more mainstream sounding rock record from the new band at the time, Bleach, was much different than a lot of other Christian rock out there. It had a similar flavor to Smashing Pumpkins and Stone Temple Pilots but entirely different. It was like a mix of bands like Everclear, Fastball, Semisonic, and yes even Smashing Pumpkins. They had a sound all their own and witty storytelling to go along with the poppy, radio friendly rock music. If there was a “Pop Rocks” on Sirius for Christian groups, Bleach would be played without a doubt. I just don’t understand how these once great bands, with a fan base and staying power can disappear off into the sunset with the industry largely ignoring them, paying no respects to what came during, before, and after. This is another story about why there needs to be better attention to legacies in Christian music by the ones in charge and paying respects to all the great bands regardless of their tenure and awards or financial successes. There is more to the story than just Amy Grant, Michael W Smith, Stryper, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, DC Talk, etc. There always has been and always will be more to the story. Bleach started off strong in 1996 with “Space” and followed it up with 2 more great albums to finish off the 90’s before moving over to Tooth & Nail Records when they continued to make music their own way on their own terms. Kudos to Bleach for sticking to their ideals and not compromising on their music in the years to come. Good for them and “Christian Rock” is better because of artists like them. “Perfect Family” was always such a fun song for me. This song and “Bicycle” by Plankeye had a similar theme of young love and transitions in life that resonated in my eyes.
18. Poor Old Lu – Picture of The Eighth Wonder
This funky, indie/alternative rock band from Seattle area was not your typical “Grunge” band nor were they a punk rock group. They forged a sound of their own and carved out a path for countless others to follow. Poor Old Lu followed up the great “Mindsize”, and “Sin” albums with this 1996 full length titled “Picture of the Eighth Wonder” on their label home, Alarma Records. This was a strong album for Poor Old Lu. It was experimental in nature while still incorporating their strong, melodic rock overtones and introducing a little more aggression into their music. This was one of our scene’s strongest rock bands in that time period and the fact that they didn’t have more fans was disappointing. “You really need to check out so and so….no really, check out this band, I know you’ll like them…hello?, are you there? No? [Sad Face]. Some of the songs on this record were super long, kinda like Coheed and Cambria or your favorite prog rock band (“Rail” was over 7 minutes). With the experimental flavor and embracing their breakthrough, radio friendly sound, there really no stopping Poor Old Lu from conquering the world. Well, unless of course they just stopped, which is what they eventually did after this album released. Their comeback record in 2002 further showed just how talented these guys have always been. Not to mention Poor Old Lu spawned the Sprinkle brothers into the forefront. Bands like Rose Blossom Punch, Fair, Demon Hunter, Dead Poetic, Subways on the Sun, Vekora, have started and released music probably much thanks to Poor Old Lu and their brief successes. Even Aaron Sprinkle has had blossoming “solo” career as well as prolific music producer who has worked with just about everyone you love and care about.
17. Spud Puddle – Linoleum
This was an odd album. It had that alternative rock vibe that a lot of bands at that time period were playing. They fit in well with Plankeye, The Prayer Chain, Driver Eight, Poor Old Lu, etc. In fact, I would say that Poor Old Lu and Sunny Day Real Estate would be the closest cousins to this band as any of the others out there. I hear some slight Sponge tendencies as well (they were another great 90’s band). They had a different sound and Nick’s distinctive, commanding voice was definitely rough, raw, and all over the place, perfect for the 90’s. The band changed their name to “Quayle” and followed this album up with a self-titled release in 1997 on a now defunct label. One cool tid bit about this band was that their singer/guitarist (Nick) went on to record a song for the “Bounce” movie soundtrack that you can still find out there. That was the movie with Ben Affleck and Gweneth Paltrow. “Fade Away”, “Another Day”, “Our Glasses”, “Sometimes I Feel” and “Growing Up” are some definite favorites from this release.
16. I’m Your Biggest Fan Vol. 1 – (Various Artists)
I’m sure everyone reading this who is Gen X or an older millennial that discovered Tooth & Nail in the mid 90’s will recall this now CLASSIC compilation of punk, indie, and underground artists that sought to tear things up with their unique blend of disruptive music. At times melodic, at times raw and ear piercing, the one thing that held it all together like glue was the Faith connection. I’m sure some of the bands may argue that fact but the overwhelming connector was the secretive pact of Christians hiding in the dark banging their instruments together with punk rock urgency. So many great bands played their hearts out without much of a notice from mainstream Christian music. This was without a doubt one of the greatest punk rock compilations of all time and Tooth & Nail’s most experimental step toward world dominance. It’s respectable what was done with Vol. 1. It still is an enjoyable listen even 25 years after the fact. Bands like Value Pac (One by One here), Ghoti Hook, Crux, Roadside Monument, Ninety Pound Wuss, MxPx, Ceasefire, Shorthanded, Blah, The Cootees, even Thee Pirates, and Blaster the Rocket Boy (Man), went on to release albums either on T&N or on other indie labels. I loved Incomplete at the time and their song was great (I followed them quite a bit). That Coolidge song was amazing as was Fellsway. All of them are really great and it’s hard to skip a single song. If I haven’t said it before, the reason I put together I’m Your Biggest Fan Vol. 2 was because of my love for this first compilation. It was my tribute and I picked mostly newer bands at that time that would serve to respect its legacy. Nearly 20 years later, I’m still a fan of both Vol. 1 and most of Vol. 2 (Hello?, You There? No? 🙁 God Bless I’m Your Biggest Fan, may it live long and proper and may the next person to pick up the mantle to march onward with Vol. 3 (whenever that is), have the greatest success and fondness for the originals.
15. Six Feet Deep – Road Less Traveled
A lot of controversy surrounded this album. The label was either non-existent or hiding out under different names. There were 2 different album cover versions for the same album along with some delays on when it dropped. The years are fuzzy and my recollection is failing me but I do remember this album was delayed a couple times because I was eagerly looking forward to it. I was one of like a couple hundred Six Feed Deep fans there since “Struggle” and loved their east coast flavored hardcore sound. If any hardcore band was worthy of a breakthrough, it was Six Feet Deep (and Focused as well). This was a moody record, somewhat depressing, yet some hope remained, burning a hole into the collective hearts of youth across the nation (and globe) who followed these guys. It was a shame that they couldn’t have gotten better representation, promotion, hype, and a following to back their ferocious sound. This was hardcore unlike most others at the time. It had some emo/post-hardcore moments in “Slip”, “Purify”, “Narrow”, etc. Really showcased where a couple members were heading with their next endeavor (Brandtson). “The Road Less Traveled” was a beast of nature and hardcore record that could slay with the best of them. If you never heard the band or the album, then get on digital networks and check out a song or two.
14. Face to Face – Self Titled
How great is this band and this album as a whole? This too is another gem from the 90’s that doesn’t quite live under the banner of “Christian Music” but it’s music and influence can be felt across the scene. I loved the bass heavy delivery of Face to Face, the fast beats and Trevor’s gruff, powerful vocal delivery. The first 2 albums were ok but this one took it up a whole other notch. In fact, I’d argue that this and “Ignorance is Bliss” are the strongest 2 90’s era punk releases. The band just put out an album in 2021 that defied expectations and was without a doubt, the band’s strongest record in decades. Check out the album “No Way Out But Through” because it absolutely rules and is one of my favorite releases of 2021. “Walk the Walk”, “Blind”, “Ordinary”, “I Won’t Lie Down”, “Complicated”, and “Everything’s Your Fault”, were all favorites off this record. Pretty much the entire album can be listened to all the way through, over and over again. Such a great piece of 90’s nostalgia.
13. Huntingtons – Sweet Sixteen
This was a basic garage punk album by a unknown band at the time and a perfect introduction. It was fun and different at the same time while still drawing on all their influences. There was some slight 50’s influenced punk rock going on here which was a common theme during the 90’s (even our school had a lame ‘greasers’ gang that acted like tough guys and beat on people for no reason. People always feel bigger in crowds of likeminded numb skulls). Even though this had a very basic sound, it was done well and there was plenty of raw melodies with loads of group background vocals which I’ve always loved and appreciated. Sarcastic songs with themes that’d make Ramones smile. Their cover of “Be My Baby” toward the end of this record has always been my favorite. You really can’t go wrong with Huntingtons and this record is no exception.
12. Driver Eight – Watermelon
“Watermelon” was the kind of rock record that appeared every once in a while, like a fading sunset, a partial eclipse, shooting star, or blooming flower about to lose its petals. Blink and its gone, that’s what I always say. There were so many of these stories in the 90’s and it’s really, really tragic. I think about the early 00’s and some similar things took place but at least those artists would have a bunch of promotion, hype, ads, thrown at the crowds and if it stuck, then the label would move forward with boosting a particular artist to the next level. Driver Eight played pop rock that fit in perfect with the music of the time while incorporating their own unique sound. They had kind of a brit rock vibe but took it off in a whole different direction. These guys, The Prayer Chain, Starflyer 59, Black Eyed Sceva, Stavesacre, and even Plankeye, were carving up their own unique sounds for the time period and were truly influential in doing so. “Watermelon” was a special kind of album that relied heavily on strong melodies alongside a diverse set of sounds and atmospheric wonderment. This album has definitely stood the test of time and you can listen even today without a single cringe or head shake. It even has a bit of a modern sound which as we all know draws from the past making “retro” cool again but then does that mean Driver Eight are current and new if new is retro? My head just exploded. Remember the good times.
11. Rainy Days – Homecoming
Oh Rainy Days, how I miss you so. These guys were a super fun band, full of explosive energy and crowd embracing enthusiasm. Back in the day we called it “Non-Distortion Pop-Punk” which meant they played without any distortion pedals, clean guitars if you will. It was different and a distinct flavor. There wasn’t another band like them at that time period. They were fast like a pop-punk band should be and yet extremely melodic with clearly understandable vocals. The plus and probably the reason a lot of people found them to begin with was the fact that former members of Unashamed, and Bloodshed comprised its ranks. In future years, a couple members went on to form Stairwell and played with Value Pac. “Homecoming” was another blink and you’ll miss it release on a Christian underground label that was fizzling out at the time. Alarma Records was where all the “Alternative” bands ended up instead of on Frontline/Intense (Same label). The label had absolutely no promotion and hardly anyone even talked about it. I believe the band had pretty much stopped playing by the year following this record and disappeared off into obscurity or the dust filled bins of your local goodwill. I miss a lot of the bands of this time period and especially had a soft spot for Rainy Days. Their vocalist was one of the strongest in that genre (which is what?) and their live shows were always impressive. They took elements of multiple genres, throwing them all into a massive blender to be spit out in a beautiful cascade of colors and sonic pleasure. Songs ranged from the relationship driven, to songs openly discussing Faith, having fun, oh and there was a 90’s cover of a worship song we all sang in Church at the time period that would probably cause some massive head scratching for the millennial, gen z set. Go check this one out on Digital networks meaning that a label somewhere is still paying for distribution and has the rights. That’s a good thing right?
10. Social Distortion – White Light, White Heat, White Trash
This band and this album probably don’t fit the standard definition of IVM and the list as a whole but I don’t care, I found a lot of peace in this album at that very time. This was unafraid punk rock by an Orange County band with years of experience, more so than their younger brethren. Social Distortion always kind of stood out and were in a league of their own throughout the past 40+ years they’ve been doing their thing. This album, which followed up 1992’s “Somewhere Between Heaven and Hell”, was much more melodic, heavy, and the vulnerability in Mike’s lyrics was unlike most punk bands in the scene at the time. Sure, they were on a major label and this was a major release with definite radio potential (‘I Was Wrong’ was played nonstop in 1996 on KROQ and other stations across the country). There may have been some questionable content but in songs like “Don’t Drag Me Down”, “Through These Eyes”, “Untitled”, “Down on The World Again”, and the hopeful anthem, “When The Angels Sing”, you couldn’t help but sing along. Even the radio single “I Was Wrong” was a perfect punk rock self-reflection with eyes turned inward. I’m not a punk historian or any kind of expert on the genre, heck I’m not familiar with half the old school punk bands but what I can tell you is that I can be drawn in by the sounds and find something likable in the melodies. Mike Ness has never been one to shy away from conflict or cater to a popularity contest and in fact, that in your face attitude with unrelenting punk spirit is what has fueled their impact for the 4 decades they’ve been making music. This album was the pinnacle of their career and I believe that this and “Sex, Love, and Rock n Roll” were 2 of the best Social D albums of that time period.
9. Value Pac – Self Titled
These Orange County hometown favorites were a special part of my life. The very first concerts I ever put together were with this band. I was 17 years old with a strong burning desire to do something different in my small part of town and share this music which I’d become a fan of with people locally, hoping to make some sort of impact. Because of this band and those shows, I went on to do some other local bookings before hanging up my hat in 1998, only to reemerge 2 years later and launch Indie Vision Music. It was an interesting time period with a lot of growth I still needed to do. I made some mistakes, said some dumb things but ultimately, I loved all these bands and their impact upon my life as a whole. This first Value Pac album that released in 1996 featured a TON of fun songs, all pop-punk stuff, from this 3-piece outfit. You may have thought “oh, 3-piece pop punk, they must be Blink-182 or the next Green Day…” but nope, it wasn’t that way at all. There may have been influences by all those bands at the time and especially in appearances, but their music was quite different. There were ska influences, fast punk stuff, and different guitar tones that wasn’t found on the releases at that time. Every band has their start, and this was the perfect launching off point. This and “Sumo Surprise” were definitely my pop-punk highlights of 1996, and I couldn’t have lived that year without them. Value Pac was another band gone far too soon. There was a lot of honesty, and vulnerability in their music partly due to the fact that Ryan (Lead Vocals/Guitar) had lost his mother to Cancer after he graduated high school. It shows on future albums. The pain at the time must have been unbearable and hard to deal with while being stuck out in front with a “Christian” pop-punk band touring the world. I get it now. Songs like “Graduation Day”, “Come Back”, “Fun For Now”, “Happy Star”, “Sunday Christian”, “Loner”, “Ballad”, “Missing You”, and an anthem for the unborn – “Final Request”, were proof that this band was one to watch in the future. Members changed over the years with Sean joining before “Jalapeño” and Isaiah leaving. Then their drummer Ben who I had many conversations with, left before their 3rd album. Some may say the last 2 Value Pac albums weren’t as good as this first one but it’s all subjective. I really loved all 3, this one being the launching point for a band that died off much too early.
8. Five Iron Frenzy – Upbeats and Beatdowns
Oh geez, what can one possibly say as a write up on the band’s debut record released 25 years ago that maybe hasn’t been said? I remember listening to this album at a Christian bookstore sometime in the fall of 1996 and wondering out loud, who were these guys and gal? Were they superheroes in disguise? Wait that’s a different band’s artwork… Seriously though, Five Iron were unlike any other band at the time then and even now, over 25 years later. This debut while not the strongest in production value, excelled in songwriting, horn parts, goofy humor, and Reese Roper’s strong and unique vocals. He could belt out those notes both live and on record. The band were known for their humor and serious subject matter that somehow crossed paths and came together at the intersection of the modern world we live in. Some of the stuff was goofy but so were all of us in the 90’s. The band was always a good time, fun to watch live and listen on record. This album release date may be disputed but we all secretly known it came out in 1996 and was re-released the next year with a different distributor. Songs about helping those less fortunate, giving to the poor, native American history and the treatment of the very first generation of Americans, Unity, Breaking down pride, showing love to the punk purists who are too cool for you, seeing people as people, finding hope when its hopeless, and ultimately sharing Jesus with those that don’t care or have surrounded their cold dark hearts with unbreakable jaded cynicism – this band, their music, and these songs are for you. This was a great start and “Our Newest Album Ever” was a most excellent continuation. If this is the original Star Wars, the follow up is my original Empire Strikes Back.
7. Sense Field – Building
Dude, “Overstand” is the strongest opening song from any band. This track launched the whole album in the most explosive of ways. Jon Bunch is one of our generation’s best vocalists and his gifts really weren’t appreciated enough. This album is a total classic. The band had that punk influence and carried with them a certain hardcore spirit so when they joined it together in one band it was like the most epic combination of minds and musicians you could ask for. Every single friggin song on this record I’ve replayed multiple times over the years and without hesitation. It was both aggressive and extremely melodic all at that same moment the notes begin to circle your speakers. Like I’ve said before, Jon Bunch had a voice unlike any other in our music scene and on popular radio/MTV. Sense Field, Gameface, Farside, and Texas is the Reason are some of my favorite Revelation Records bands and showcased the strongest era for underground punk and hardcore. I just wish those critical of Jon Bunch joining Further Seems Forever could have been kinder back at that time. He was a man that was hurting and seeking answers just like the rest of us.
6. The O.C. Supertones – Adventures of…
There were so many great albums that dropped in 1996, especially in the realm of (underground) Christian music and this was definitely one of them. From the opening moments of “Adonai” (Alright Supertones, Let’s Rock!) to highlights like “Unknown”, “He Will Always Be There”, “Who Can Be Against Me”, and especially our hometown favorite, “OC Supertones”. A lot of great songs some of which have aged well and some, well, that’s for you to decide. The only thing keeping this album out of one of my favorite OC Supertones releases is the production. It’s not terrible but it wasn’t at the level of their next 4 albums. This is a classic to be sure and a band that has held a special place in my heart for more than 25 years now. I think growing up in the same parts of town as these guys, running into them at different points over the years, knowing that a few of them became pastors after the band ended, has just been a special thing to be a witness to. I must say, the horn parts and horn solos on this album were really well done. Let’s not forget the over the top and crowd riot inciting live shows that completely took Southern California by surprise. I think these shows are a reason that local Churches won’t host punk shows anymore lol (oh no, our precious padded seats!).
5. Ghoti Hook – Sumo Surprise
Well, this was an easy one, right? I mean they did just recently press this on Vinyl for the first time via UnoriginalVinyl and I wrote a little piece for the liner notes. You knew it was going to end up high on my list, right? Yep. “Sumo Surprise” is one of those special debut records that is nearly perfect in every way and showcased a band with budding talent. This was like lightning in a bottle that T&N caught and unleashed on the world. Usually a band starts off “ok” then moves further up the spectrum with each subsequent release. Well in the case of the Ghotis, this album was strong and each one that came after had to live up to extreme expectations. Did they deliver? Well, that’s for you, the listener to decide. “Banana Man” and “Two Years to Never” were both fantastic but I’ve always loved this debut. A band with 3 strong full-length records, a “Covers” record, then an EP and a farewell. This was a band gone much too soon. I’m sure there aren’t enough pages to document why and how they broke up but for us fans, it didn’t matter because we captured a snapshot of the 90’s in the form of shiny discs, tape, and giant Frisbees, that’ll forever grip our hearts. All the songs on “Sumo Surprise” are strong, even the jokey, goofy ones. The production was surprisingly crisp for a mid-90’s debut punk release. Everything about Ghoti Hook was enjoyable and I think it’s up to us and people like myself to continue their legacy by talking about the songs, discussing their impact, and ultimately sharing what it is they did at that time period. Never forget. Ghoti Hook forever.
4. Bloomsday – The Day the Colors Died
This little unknown band from Washington state had a sound unlike most “grunge” bands but then again, they probably would have fit in just perfect on stage next to Radiohead, Alice in Chains, Screaming Trees, Dinosaur Jr, Meat Puppets, Soul Asylum, etc. They were underappreciated much like the majority of “Christian” rock of the 90’s that appeared on some underground labels beside the big guys at T&N. Bloomsday were just as good if not better than the majority of their contemporaries and dare I say, the majority of modern rock radio in the 90’s. I just happened to catch their set next to Driver Eight and Raspberry Jam at a brief moment in time at a Church in Capo Beach, CA. with maybe 50 people in attendance, counting crew and band members. It was a perfect evening, and I was floored by the sounds radiating off the amps and walls of that cold, open, sanctuary space. It was as if I was witness to the beginning of a new generation of Christian bands and wanted to tell the world through my youthful and naive enthusiasm. It was such a weird time period because you’d have some complete sucess stories and then other bands that had the sound nailed down but lacked in promotion and exposure, eventually falling victim to the dusty bargain bin collection sites of yesteryear. “The Day the Colors Died” was the epitome of an incredible, burgeoning, independent sound by Christian musicians’ intent on playing with quality. They weren’t putting on a “front” and presenting some sort of fake image to sell records. They were the real deal and I bet you anything that if Dave Grohl had heard Bloomsday live and on record at that very time, he would have embraced the band, eventually taking them on tour during The Color and Shape era. At least that’s how I see it. The title track is a perfect introduction to the record followed by “Patience”, with its laid back, shoe gazey vibes and atmospheric tendencies. I even hear a bit of The Cranberries in the wall of sound during “Patience”. “Song of Five” is beautiful, plain and simple. A 6+ minute epic soundscape of beauty and intensity, one of those songs that just envelopes you in a warm fuzzy embrace of sonic escapism. I can’t help but love this entire record. While it is has never shown its face on digital networks, you can still find CDs and Cassettes of the album around on the internet. The follow up EP was released on Velvet Blue in 1997 and I hope someday that both of these releases will hit the digital marketplace. For now, I will sit back with headphones and enjoy my Amazon Cloud streaming version of the album.
3. Stavesacre – Friction
Tooth & Nail had one of the strongest years on record in 1996. You can’t count a single Christian music fan that was into the underground punk subculture that didn’t appreciate a release that dropped that particular year. Stavesacre “Friction” is certainly no exception. They were billed as a “supergroup” of epic proportions and it’s quite visible as to why that is. You had Mark and Jeff from The Crucified, Dirk from Focused, and the elusive Jeremy M. of The Blamed “Frail” album, on Drums. I was at a show right around the time of the album release and watched as Jeremy threw his sticks into the crowd then walked off stage quitting and never to be seen (or heard from) again. Sam West stepped in around this time and offered his tight, extremely precise and rhythmic drumming for all future Stavesacre records. Sam West was also a member of Scatered Few and Saviour Machine but that’s a story for another day. This write up is all about “Friction”. The albums begins with a bang, definitely aggressive and crowd stirring in the form of “Threshold”. A fist raising anthem with plenty of anger and vitriol but not completely lost on a misguided temper. The song is a solid start to an album full of the kind of intensity found on this first song. You’ve got aggressive, the melodic and passionate, and the ballads. The hope burning bright through every strum of the guitar, bass picking, pounding drums and mixed with Mark’s unrelenting, unmistakable voice, has cemented their place in our music scene for over 30 years now. These men play with passion, poetry, and fully embrace the sound they play forth through recorded music and on those stages. There was a time where I was a stupid kid booking shows at a club in Santa Ana and had Stavesacre go on at 1am for a “Festival” and they were pissed. I was immature and out of mind at that time, really naive and not much experience. Anything that happened at that time was entirely my fault and of all my regrets in life it was what I did at those early shows that affected me for years to come. Don’t take on more than you can handle, always remember that. Anyway, “Threshold”, “At The Moment”, “Suffocate Me”, “Burning Clean”, “Anna Thema”, and even the closer, “Stars and Clouds”, rank as my favorites. They are all wonderful songs, fully standing the test of time and a band worthy of not only praise, but of longevity and influence. Thank you Mark, Jeff, Dirk, Sam, Ryan, for all you’ve done, and all you’ll continue doing in the years to come. May the music of Stavesacre live long past all of our expiration dates.
Creation speaks to me
I’m stricken to my knees
In reverence and fear
Forever my Almighty
The Heavens in your hand
Surpass the grains of sand
Who am I before you?
Elieonai Eli adullam
2. MxPx – Life in General
We all remember that one year in our lives where everything just seemed to come together. A lifetime of memories wrapped up in 12 months of audio excellence. Some might remember where they were at when JFK was shot and killed, or when we landed on the moon, when the Challenger met its unfortunate fate, Berlin wall fell, riots, New Presidents, Ex-Presidents, Y2K, 9/11, more presidents and elections, Wars, more riots, Covid Pandemic, etc. You remember important events and therefore that particular year is cemented in your mind. For me, that year was 1996 and this band released their HUGE, momentous, 3rd full length album titled “Life in General”. Back in the day, this album was the best of the best in regard to punk rock. There really weren’t too many other bands that had that fast, pop-punk sound that MxPx did. They did it well on this record that’s for sure. “Life In General” is one of the best Pop-Punk albums of all time. It’s a time capsule of the mid 90’s, a simpler time, and a time before we had devices glued to our faces. So many great songs are on this record, in fact you could probably just listen to all 17 and not get bored. We raise a toast to MxPx for their longevity and Mike’s knack for making catchy songs that are relatable and fun to listen to during any season and any curveball life throws our way. Long live Life in General and the punk rock of MxPx.
1. Plankeye – Commonwealth
Plankeye were an underrated band that many of us cheered on while the outside world practically ignored and some may have pretended, didn’t exist. Plankeye existed as they rightfully should have, smack dab in that 90’s decade putting out 4 fantastic albums with Scott Silletta on Lead Vocals/Guitar. His touch to this band was undeniable and his musical gifts including that gruff but extremely melodic vocal presence, was truly unforgettable. Regardless of what he may think now, God has blessed Scott Silletta tremendously with a voice that has reached far beyond the confines of Orange County, CA., touching people across the globe with inspiring, thoughtful, and hope inspired music. Music that has lasted beyond just the Gen X and Millennial generations. All 4 men in this band went on to create a beautiful album like “Commonwealth” at a time when the music scene was starting to change and evolve. Music discovery was exploding and the diversity of sounds in all these bands at that time period was something to behold. It was magical. “Commonwealth” wasn’t a joke album, there wasn’t a lot of humor on it, but there was however a certain, very serious element that pulled at the heartstrings and made me an instant fan from day one. This wasn’t punk rock, this wasn’t ska, this wasn’t grunge, this wasn’t pop music, but it was good, GREAT, music. “Commonwealth” was an album unlike most others at the time. Plankeye out-punked the punks and I mean that sincerely. They were an underground, small, relatively unknown band, with a certain punk diy aesthetic playing big songs that would make Radio do a double take and then going out on tour with Newsboys? You see, Plankeye did things their own way and hit the CCM crowd with a little subliminal punk edge. Thank you Scott, Eric, Luis, and Adam for influencing me 25 years ago. Thank you for never giving up on your dreams no matter how difficult it got at that the time and holding on to that brief yet bright glimmer of hope as long as you could. We all look back kindly on your band and your music will never be forgotten. I really want Scott to know how much his presence and creativity of a “Great” song was appreciated. It’ll never go unforgotten. God Bless Plankeye and may Commonwealth live on forever!
Roadside Monument – Beside This Brief Hexagonal
Mortal – Mortal
Galactic Cowboys – Machine Fish
xDisciplex AD – Lantern EP
Blaster The Rocket Boy – Succulent Space Food For Teething Vampires
Thanks for the playlist, listening now for major nostalgia. I think I had all but 6 of those albums. I didn’t know anyone else who listened to Bloomsday or Driver Eight, now I feel reaffirmed in the musical tastes of my youth, lol.
Thank you Brenda for coming here and commenting, especially under my post 🙂 My nostalgia driven passion has fueled much of the content on this site and in articles. I hold a broad range of musical influences in my head and appreciate all forms of music but the 90’s did grasp some of my faves.
What a great list! I’ve got 8 of those albums. Seems like you’ve got some great mix in there, which is my style.
Wow! Excellent, well-written reviews here. You really hit the nail on the head on so many albums. Great choices, this brought back some memories.
I have most of these albums, and a few of the others I don’t have, I am re-discovering 25+ years later. I was 14 in 1996, and this brought back some serious nostalgia.
Thanks Brandon! Great job!
That Driver Eight album is so underrated. Got it back in the day in a Tooth & Nail sale after just hearing the title track, and it blew my mind. Your top three is unassailable. So good. I hope Plankeye realizes how much we appreciated them.